Glenn Ashby

Diving history and underwater technology featured in new exhibit in Campbell River

The past, present and future of underwater exploration

At the Maritime Heritage Centre, Glenn Ashby takes on the light- and heavy-lifting chores.

The past president of the Maritime society is happily painting doorway trim on the entrance to the main hall when he gets called over to the new underwater exhibit by operations manager Trish Whiteside.

There’s one more “little thing” that requires his attention: An old, cast iron diving helmet.

This is where the heavy lifting comes in.

With a quick clean-and-jerk, the two of us hoist the behemoth from its stand and lower it as gently as possible onto Ashby’s trim shoulders. He’s kneeling on the ground to further brace himself when he remarks on the weight.

“Jeez, must be at least 60 pounds!”

Fortunately, the U.S Navy Diving Helmet Mark V is designed to distribute its bulk through the shoulders and not Ashby’s neck. He opens the front glass porthole and smiles for the photographer.

When the helmet is safely off Ashby and back on its stand, Whiteside breathes a sigh of relief as she thinks about the divers from long ago who worked underwater with these heavy helmets and suits, plus steel shoes.

“It only shows what these guys went through. Once they got on this stuff, they must have went down in a hurry,” she says.

Today is the public opening for the Centre’s latest exhibit, “What Lies beneath: the Past, Present and Future of Underwater Exploration.” This exhibit examines new technology and the evolution of diving from prehistoric man to modern times.

The exhibit is on loan from the Maritime Museum of BC where it was a huge success in Victoria. Now the interactive display is at the Maritime Heritage Centre in Campbell River, and there’s a lot of cool stuff to see.

There’s another old diving suit, a combination of a claustrophobic mask and heavy burlap “suit”; a hand-powered pump that provided oxygen to divers; a small bathysphere which is a spherical deep-sea submersible; and a classic spear gun with the trident-tipped spear.

Visitors can also learn more about the Venus and Neptune underwater ocean observing systems located off Vancouver Island.

These unique observatories on the ocean floor allow researchers and the public an up-close look at sea life.

The exhibit is now open to the public. Admission is $5 and free to children under six. There’s also a 2-for-1 coupon available on the website,